A liberal special-interest group is circulating a petition in the hopes of collecting enough signatures to place a referendum on the November ballot that would amend the Oklahoma Constitution in a most damaging and dumb way, something many of us not blinded by single-minded devotion to a specific cause have come to associate with liberals . . . and special interest groups.

The culprit in this case is the Oklahoma Education Association, and its short-sighted proposal would require (in the form of nothing less than a constitutional amendment, remember) the Oklahoma Legislature to fund the state’s schools, on a per-pupil basis (arguably a poor evaluative measure, but seemingly the most beneficial to furthering the OEA’s goals), to the tune of what the OEA refers to as the regional average (the average of per-pupil spending in the six states that border Oklahoma).

An article published in the June edition of “The Education Focus,” an OEA member publication, quoted OEA president Roy Bishop as saying the Helping Oklahoma Public Education initiative, were it to become law, would initially “produce” $850 million (if only we all knew the secret to “producing” nearly $1 billion) for public schools, and would furthermore require the Legislature to increase its funding accordingly every time any, or, more frighteningly, all, of Oklahoma’s six neighbors increased theirs.

What the OEA has proposed is absolutely ludicrous. A constitutional amendment requiring Oklahoma’s schools to ‘keep up with the Joneses’ is probably the worst idea this reporter has heard since having a front-row seat for a similar debacle in my home state of Arkansas (Woo! Pig, sooiee!).

In 2002, the Arkansas Supreme Court upheld a lesser court ruling that found the state’s school funding unconstitutionally inadequate. In the six years since that most reckless ruling, the Lakeview case (named for the school district around which the case centered) has had what the OEA would undoubtedly consider a positive effect--per-pupil funding has increased and student test scores (again, arguably, in this case almost certainly, a poor evaluative measure) have as well.

But everything comes at a cost. Actions have consequences. There is a right way and a wrong way to do everything (OEA, are you there? Can you hear me?).

By forcing Arkansas legislators’ collective hand into caving to the demands of a special-interest group, none of which ever seem to consider anything beyond their own narrow, typically minority (though not so much in this case, I’ll grant) concerns, the Lakeview case prompted the single largest tax increase in Arkansas’s 172-year history. And it forced the consolidation of almost 60 rural school districts to date, and that number continues to grow.

The brain trust at the OEA, of course, denies that either of those inevitabilities will occur in Oklahoma. See if you agree with this oh-so-similar line of thinking: “When that man stepped into oncoming traffic, he was struck by a moving automobile and killed--but when I step into oncoming traffic...”

Finish the thought on your own, attempting to think--or, perhaps more accurately, not think--with the unparalleled brilliance of the OEA’s leadership.

These men and women, educated all, to be sure, apparently nonetheless believe, as many pseudo-scientists have no doubt argued, that the state of Oklahoma exists in some kind of temporal nexus that mysteriously came into existence at exactly the time of their need, a magical place where the natural, logical and well-reasoned consequences of a given action simply do not follow said action.

Doubtless, not everyone shares this belief. For those who do not, rest assured the natural consequence of this proposal will be one of the following: higher taxes, consolidated schools or a near-devisceration of every other area of the state budget.

The simple, unobscurable fact is that $850 million will have to come from somewhere. Do not believe the OEA on this point. The HOPE initiative will require, as did a similar turn of events in Arkansas, both a significant tax raise AND consolidation of rural school districts, some of which are among the highest-performing districts in Oklahoma.

The leadership at the OEA would also do well to consider a few other facts. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Oklahoma has a lower median household income than five of the six states it borders. Additionally, when the state’s gross domestic product and its population are expressed as a ratio (GDP:population), Oklahoma fares worse than five of its six neighbors once again--and these are both very good evaluative measures.

Translation: the Joneses have more money than do Oklahomans. It then follows that Oklahoma’s neighbors will be able to spend more on anything and everything than will Oklahoma.

Apparently, though, the fiscal concerns of the state and its citizens do not concern those directing the OEA. Predictably, they are concerned only with that one, special interest that consumes their every waking thought.

Now, do not paint me anti-education. I spent several years, tens of thousands of dollars and an awful lot of effort getting myself a college education. Do not paint me anti-education funding. I understand, unlike those at the OEA, that everything has a price. I have consistently favored education funding proposals, even when they required a tax increase, as my voting record shows.

I do not, however, favor back-door demands for a tax hike, especially, as is here the case, when those making said demands refuse to acknowledge what they actually are and what they will require.

I do not favor the forced consolidation of rural (or urban, for that matter) school districts, which this initiative will almost certainly force. If a school cannot raise enough funds to match the regional per-pupil average, it will be unconstitutional for that school to continue operating, and there will be schools that cannot generate so much revenue.

And I certainly do not favor gutting every other state department’s budget to give the education folks the money they claim they simply cannot live without. Cutting off a dog’s legs to feed its face is not sound judgment, no matter how hungry the face may be.

If the OEA truly believes Oklahoma’s schools must have this money, then let them make their case to the people straightforwardly and honestly, and doubtless Oklahomans will respond favorably.

But for now, so long as deceit and denial are the OEA’s preferred tactics, here’s hoping the HOPE initiative quickly and quietly goes the way of the Dodo.

Daniel Fedora is a Woodward News staff writer.

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